CPS seeks to ease parent anger over ice storm bus problems

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COLUMBIA - Some parents are questioning the way Columbia Public Schools handled Friday's ice storm, but CPS officials said they did the best they could given "unpredictable" conditions.

Bad weather hit Columbia midday Friday and caused hundreds of accidents and gridlocked traffic. Columbia Public Schools chose not to call an early release because of the already hazardous road conditions. 

Michelle Baumstark, communications director for the school district, told KOMU 8 News that closing early would have put another 18,000 students on the road and it would have made things even worse. She said the district's top priority is its students safety and officials weren't willing to risk it.

The school buses for the city were late picking up many students, which resulted in late drop offs.

Hundreds of students were stuck at schools very late into the night. The schools did make sure that students were fed and warm while they waited on buses and parent pick up.

Charnell Hickem, a parent of a elementary and high school student said, "It almost made parents feel helpless. But when we look at it from the positive side, we have to be thankful for all the people that stayed with our children and made sure they were safe."

Baumstark said there are inclement weather plans, but they cannot always be followed. 

"We had a plan in place, but this weather was unpredictable. We also didn't have anyone in the bus dispatch center to help with communication, because everyone was out driving." Baumstark said.

The last pick up was after 9 p.m. on Friday night, and the last drop off was not until after 1 a.m. on Saturday.

Some buses were not able to get up certain hills in Columbia, and students had walk the rest of the way home.

Another parent, who wishes to remain anonymous, told KOMU 8 News, "I wish the school board would have paid better attention to the weather. I have an elementary school child that did not get home until nearly midnight and was afraid."

Columbia Public Schools chose to cancel classes on Monday. This will add an extra day to the end of the school year for all students.

For high school students, it will defer their finals schedule. High school principals are working with their families and students to get the information out.

Hickman High School has modified its  finals schedule, as has Battle High School , and Rock Bridge did not have a schedule up as of Monday afternoon at 2 p.m.

The district is working to ensure that all students finish their finals before leaving for Christmas break, but officials aren't sure that it is doable. Some students will be taking finals after coming back from the holidays. 

The district said that it did everything it could to keep their students safe, and made sure that all students were taken care of until the last student was home.